A woman stranded in the Australian outback for nearly two weeks was miraculously found alive Sunday — even as rescue efforts continued in the remote region for the 52-year-old’s two friends who remained unaccounted for.
The Northern Territory Police said in a news release that Tamra McBeath-Riley was found after a vehicle the trio were traveling in was discovered in a riverbed southwest of Alice Springs. The group had left Alice Springs on Nov. 19 before the vehicle became bogged down in the riverbed.
Police Superintendent Pauline Vicary said at a news conference that McBeath-Riley found water about 1 mile north of the car.
“Sensibly she appears to have stayed where the water is and has been drinking that, and that’s probably what kept her going,” Vicary said.
An air search continued Monday for McBeath-Riley’s friends — Claire Hockridge, 46, and Phu Tran, 40 — who reportedly left the waterhole to seek help.
McBeath-Riley said during a Monday news conference that on Thursday her friends began the 12-mile journey to reach a nearby highway, planning to avoid the desert heat — which came close to 104 Fahrenheit in recent days — by walking at night and carrying whatever water they could find.
“We tried many times to try to get out, but just couldn’t get out, so ventured forth to try and find some shelter and some water,” she said. “The river was just too large, we couldn’t get out.”
During the day, the group dug a hole underneath the car to stay cool and then slept in the vehicle at night, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. During that time period, the trio survived on six liters of water, 10 cans of iced vodka, a packet of biscuits and some beef noodles.
After running out of supplies, they left a note on the car and made their way to the watering hole.
McBeath-Riley said she decided to stay at the waterhole with her Staffordshire terrier because she did not think the dog would survive a walk to the Stuart Highway, which connects Australia’s north and south coasts. The group of women did not know if anyone was looking for them.
“When the helicopter found me, I thought that Claire and Phu had reached the highway,” she told reporters. “That was my immediate thought. So to find that’s not the case is worrying.”
Officials said McBeath-Riley was treated in an Alice Springs hospital for dehydration and exposure after she was found late Sunday. Her dog’s status was not immediately clear.
Police said Monday that rescue efforts have “ramped up,” with two helicopters covering 14 square miles from the Stuart Highway, the general area where it is believed the pair may be. Vicary said that so far searchers had only found one set of footprints.
“It’s quite a diverse terrain,” she told reporters. “There’s sandy dunes, there’s hard clay, there’s areas of dense trees, but there are also rocks and ranges in the area.”
The pair had little food with them, she said.
A local cattle rancher played a key role in saving McBeath-Riley, telling police he spotted tire tracks in an area that hadn’t been searched.
“As a result of that information, we were able to locate the vehicle and then from there they have followed some of the other tracks and have located her,” Vicary said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.